MasterChef: The Professionals 2015 – week one

MasterChef: The Professionals 2015 – week one

by Food Urchin 13 November 2015

Danny Kingston rounds up the first week of the latest series of MasterChef: The Professionals.

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Danny is a food adventurer, home grower, supper club host and writer of the entertaining and quirky epicurean blog, Food Urchin.

Danny is a food adventurer, home grower, supper club host and writer of the entertaining and quirky epicurean blog, Food Urchin.

If you’re into food and can knock up a half decent plate, there’s a good chance that someone, say a family member or friend, will have popped this question to you – ‘Hey, have you thought about applying for MasterChef?’ It’s a good question and perhaps you should. Why not? Go on. Go for it. ‘Go aaaaaaan ‘ave a go!’ As Gregg might say, whilst eating a whole Christmas pudding with his bare hands.

The same question, however, seems a bit more puzzling should it ever be put to a chef. Like someone who actually works in the industry. ‘Hey, you’re a chef, have you thought about applying for MasterChef? Because, well, you’re a chef…and um...well you could go on to become an even bigger chef! Is this…is this a good idea?’ Maybe not. Maybe it’s not a good idea.

My main point being, if it’s your job in real life, then surely a lot more must be at stake? By throwing your lot in and taking a chance in front of millions of people, that’s one hell of a gamble, isn’t it? Because there’s always the small chance of cocking up and revealing that really, you don’t know what are doing. Imagine going back to your mates in the kitchen? Imagine going back to your boss?! Strewth, it doesn’t bear thinking about.

But here we go again with the latest series of MasterChef: The Professionals and the car crashes certainly piled up on screen. Thankfully, a couple slipped through the wreckage with a deft swerve and a skip, so here’s the lowdown of what happened in the first week. Before we start though, we must congratulate Marcus Wareing once again on his spectacularly coiffed beard, Monica Galetti on her natty new glasses and Gregg Wallace for returning as a ‘Judge’. For I am sure he was labelled ‘Taste Consultant’ in the last series.

First six
The first six
Blue steak
Marcus' blue steak looked much nicer than some of the contestants' entries

Episode one

The first six to grace our screens had to get through the notorious skills test or ‘shaky hands’ test as I like to call it, proving to the judges that they could make either a mean blue steak with green peppercorn sauce or some delicate îles flottantes, which are meringues floating on custard to you and me. Sam from Newcastle executed his meringues well, although they were slightly lumpy. Submariner chef Aaron scrambled his effort and Mark, head chef of a well known London gastropub, well, he just about managed to make a bowl of custard. Self taught Rebecca produced a pepper sauce that made Marcus cough his lungs up. Orange tanned Bobby from Essex forgot his seasoning and Lewis barely caramelised his steak. Yes, it was not the most auspicious of starts.

Things did get better for the signature dish round though, especially for Mark who produced a wonderful looking plate of lamb rump, braised lamb breast with Jerusalem artichokes and a hearty sauce. Did I say lamb breast? I mean belly. Belly, breast, belly, breast, I don’t know, everyone kept changing their minds. Sam also did well with his stone bass and textures of cauliflower. Bobby tried to be different with his mixed grill, comprising of smoked beef fillet, stuffed pork loin and glazed quail but everything sort of fell flat. Gregg even went so far as to say ‘I ain’t ever going to look at a menu and order beef, pork and quail.’ Which surprised me.

Lewis, who is a teacher at a catering college by the way, served up a woefully undercooked piece of squab pigeon. Aaron’s pan fried duck breast also needed more time in the actual pan and Rebecca’s homely sticky toffee pudding didn’t meet her expectations and even though the judges did say that it tasted nice, she was out. Along with Lewis and Aaron.

It all got a bit too much for Gregg
A perfect omelette Arnold Bennett
Lucie tried to keep her spirits up

Episode two

Tim from the Phillipines decided that his omelette should have a ratio of butter to egg at about 70/30, so essentially he served up some melted butter and fish.

Food Urchin

For the next episode, six more chefs showed up and bang, we were straight into the skills test again. And after watching Marcus and Monica blithely go through their paces, showing us viewers how easy it was to make an omelette Arnold Bennett and a couple of brandy snaps, we were left thinking, how could this go wrong for the chefs?

It went wrong for some of the chefs. Seafood chef Tim from the Phillipines decided that his omelette should have a ratio of butter to egg at about 70/30, so essentially he served up some melted butter and fish. Speedy Alex split his hollandaise but was able to pull it back from the brink and Lucie got everything completely buttocks about face with her effort. When asked how she felt it went, she piped up with some spirit and said ‘Not bad.’ ‘Not good,’ was Marcus’ reponse.

The brandy snaps went better (incidentally, brandy snaps do not feature brandy, according to the knowledgeable Mr Wallace). Senior sous chef Andy made a brandy taco rather than a cigar and swaggering Lee forgot to put sugar into his mix. But Nick, who has plenty of Michelin experience, made some very nice looking brandy snap baskets indeed.

With regards to the signature dish round it was a tight one, as all six chefs produced some very good looking dishes. Well to my mind anyway. Nick continued on his upward path with a beautiful plate of pork fillet with polenta discs, crispy nettles and pine nut puree. Andy’s Asian-influenced duck breast with honey and soy also delivered big, bold flavours. Tim’s Gyit ung esta (no, that is not the right pronunciation or spelling but Monica couldn’t say it either) or Turbot in coconut sauce showed promise, as did Alex’s North African-influenced pigeon glazed with pomegranate and grilled peach.

Lee’s cannon of lamb with heritage carrots and chicken emulsion, on the other hand, was let down by a lack of love and therefore a lack of flavour. Lucie’s pretty looking chilli, chocolate and beetroot brownie didn’t fare too well either as it was far too dense for the judges. So it was these two who had to walk, along with Tim, who I suspect will ruefully look at blocks of butter forevermore.

Jay Rayner, William Sitwell and Tracy Macleod were looking to be impressed
Quarter finalists
The three quarter finalists

Episode three

Mark certainly impressed the judges

To get past the quarterfinals and past the dreaded critics, the six remaining chefs first had to endure the invention test in episode three. Poussin, squid, tomato, broccoli, mango, thyme and dark chocolate were all on offer and all six chefs decided to go down the savoury route. Much to the disappointment of Monica. Again, Nick shone with his little plate of art by roasting his breast with crispy skin, stuffing the legs and setting everything off with an Asian style broth. Andy made an alarmingly green laska that was too refined for this traditional Malaysian dish. Mark hit the brief with a very competent and classic roasted crown with confit legs, fondant potato and shallot puree and Alex got a bit mixed up with his light English roast dinner, made by an Italian.

The big disasters for this one were ushered in by Sam and Bobby. Sam showed with his tortellini with chicken mousse and crispy skin that whilst he had some ideas, he was unsure what to do with them. Bobby. Different, jazzy Bobby really fell flat on his face with a very dry, deconstructed chicken pie that just did not live up to the hype. As such, he was slung off on his hook, along with Alex, who trudged back to his garden centre restaurant.

Through the door then came the critics, ready to pull things to pieces. William Sitwell, who was looking for something simple yet new. Tracy Macleod, who was fed up with foraged and fashion. And Jay Rayner, who was looking to feel smug in years to come, having eaten food made by a star of the future.

Nerves were on full effect for this one and for the normally unflappable Nick, this turned into a rather sweaty challenge. On paper, his halibut with curried lentil and lemongrass filled the critics with high expectation but ultimately, he produced a ‘symphony of beige.’ His popcorn cake with caramelised banana and salted peanuts did get a better response, with Tracy noting that ‘this chef does know flavour.’

Poor, affable Geordie Sam had a full on disaster with his lamb rump and stuffed courgette flowers. Jay, rather cuttingly, said that ‘a good indicator of how a dish is going to taste is how it looks and this looks terrible.’ Ooof. His chocolate dessert didn’t do well either, leaving Marcus looking rather incredulous at it all.

Andy came up with a great name for his main course – Nanny Pickles’ Lamb and Greens – which has a great story but the message became mixed when he plonked two plates of food down. One full of spring-like lamb loin, while the other was a small autumnal pie to warm the cockles of the heart. There was too much going on basically. His honey and vanilla parfait was also deemed too safe but at least it was in peak condition. Tracy suggested that she has killed people in the past for anything less.

Last of all came Mark, who really stole the show with his hazelnut crusted cod, clam vinaigrette, cockle foam and foraged sea vegetables. ‘Wow, wow, wow,’ were the words that came from William’s lips and even Tracy had to go back on her words. His rich chocolate marquise with pickled cherries sealed the deal, despite a rather rustic quenelle, and suddenly we had smiles all round.

Except for Sam. Sam had to go. Back to his kitchen in Tyneside, red-faced and shoulders slumped down to the floor. Oh who’d be a chef and go on MasterChef: The Professionals, eh? I’m not sure I would.